Will this be the last HARD Summer? With the festival's founder, Gary Richards, announcing his imminent departure, that was the question buzzing among attendees all weekend as the popular EDM/hip-hop event celebrated its 10th anniversary at its fifth different location in as many years, the Glen Helen Amphitheater and Regional Park in San Bernardino.
If this is to be the last HARD Summer, it certainly went out with a bang, with memorable sets galore on six stages from a stellar lineup that included Snoop Dogg, Justice, Dog Blood, Anna Lunoe, Bassnectar and many more. Here are some of the many highlights (and a few lowlights) from what was probably our favorite HARD Summer since the festival moved from L.A. State Historic Park four years ago.
Best: The “ShipFam” love fest during Destructo's set
Just before HARD Summer, news broke that the event's founder and figurehead, Gary Richards aka DJ Destructo, will be leaving HARD's parent company, Live Nation, making this HARD Summer his last. The news spread like wildfire through the festival's devoted fan base, who came out in force to show their support for Richards during his Sunday afternoon mainstage set. Richards' core crowd call themselves the “ShipFam,” after Holy Ship!, HARD's annual party cruise, and there appeared to be thousands of them, all wearing HARD or Holy Ship! hats and T-shirts, waving ShipFam banners and homemade signs, or decked out in pineapple-covered Hawaiian shirts and other regalia (the pineapple having become a ShipFam symbol). Richards, wearing all white, threw down a killer, G-house–heavy set and brought out rapper Yo Gotti, as well as his literal family — his two children, who took turns standing atop the DJ table and waving adorably to the crowd. For now, it appears that Live Nation plans to keep the HARD and Holy Ship! brands going without Richards — but Sunday's show of loyalty suggests that may be difficult. —Andy Hermann
Best: HARDer Stage's VIP pool
A cobalt-blue swimming pool is not often an image conjured when imagining an EDM festival in the Inland Empire. Available to VIPs and various other properly wrist-banded attendees was a waist-deep, elevated pop-up pool with a view of the festival's HARDer Stage. Though it remained surprisingly vacant throughout the event, those who took advantage of this oasis in the scorching San Bernardino climate got the opportunity to watch acts such as Justice, A-Trak, Zeds Dead and Bassnectar while soaking and sipping on cocktails. —Morena Duwe
Best: Dog Blood
HARD Summer was packed with fantastic performances and DJ sets, perhaps none more anticipated than the only announced 2017 show by the EDM super-duo of Skrillex and Boys Noize, aka Dog Blood. Drawing what appeared to be the biggest crowd of the weekend (yes, even bigger than Snopp Dogg's), the pair lived up to lofty expectations with a set that delivered banger after banger, culminating in a pulverizing trap remix of Kendrick Lamar's “Humble” that had fans going apeshit as far as the eye could see. Dog Blood are apparently planning to release new music soon. If this set was any indication, it should be some of their best and heaviest work to date. —A.H.
Best: Anna Lunoe
Setting what has to be a HARD record is Anna Lunoe: first woman to play a highly energetic DJ set while eight months pregnant. The Australian-bred, Los Angeles–based DJ, producer and radio show host hyped up a packed audience with her eclectic mix of heart-defibrillating bangers. Donning knee pads and a striped bodycon dress, she possessed the grace of a tiger and the agility of a spider monkey as she hopped and head-banged atop the DJ booth. (Read more about Anna Lunoe's set here.) —M.D.
Best: Ellen Allien
As curated by NYC house duo Soul Clap, HARD Summer's intimate Corona Electric Beach stage was pretty much nonstop awesome on Saturday, with fun, high-energy sets by DJ Heather b2b Colette, Doc Martin, Egyptian Lover and the Soul Clap guys themselves. But the highlight was veteran Berlin DJ/producer/label boss Ellen Allien, who delivered a relentless set of driving, hypnotic techno to close out the night. Where most DJs rely on pummeling waves of bass and roller-coaster climaxes and drops to juice their crowd, Allien reminded those present that subtlety can be energizing, too. Once you've lost yourself in Allien's cerebral but sexy style of techno, just a new synth hook or even a well-timed hi-hat can be enough to keep your feet moving. —A.H.
Worst: $15 tall cans
No outside booze allowed? That's to be expected at a venue operated by Live Nation. But charging $15 for a tall can of mediocre beer (and $16 for the good stuff) is just absolutely and unequivocally rude. As Angelenos, we are used to paying these kinds of prices for, say, a craft cocktail at a ritzy downtown nightclub, and sometimes it’s worth the indulgence. But paying that price for one tall can when you could buy three for the same amount at any bodega? Did I shell out money for these tall cans? Yes. Was it worth it? Maybe. Will I ever stop complaining about it? Never. [Ed. note: It's also impossible to drink a 24-oz. tall can in 95-degree heat without half of it warming up to room temperature. And room temperature Corona, in case you were wondering, is gross.] —M.D.
Best: Water, water everywhere
Last year, when HARD Summer was held at the Fontana Speedway, many attendees complained that the free refill stations delivered water at a trickle, causing massive lines — and that even the paid water vendors were too few and far between for such a swelteringly hot outdoor venue. This year, at Glen Helen, HARD and Live Nation fixed that problem with a vengeance. Water vendors were everywhere, even sometimes roaming in the crowd at the larger stages like ice cream barkers at a baseball game (shoutout to the female water vendor dancing on top of the metal railing between VIP and general at the mainstage during Giraffage's set). Better still, the free refill stations were massive, with short lines and good water pressure. Did the water taste good? Not really. But free is free, and it made staying hydrated at this year's HARD much easier than at some of its past locations. —A.H.
Best: The world's most intimidating security guy
Note to festivals: If you really want to ensure that no one in your crowd is openly doing drugs on the dance floor, just put all your security guards in wraparound shades and skull masks. I'm sure no one without 200 feet of the guy in the above photo was even thinking about lighting up a joint or slipping a sip of beer to his underage homies, much less breaking out the molly. Rock on, scary security guy. —A.H.
Worst: The exodus
OK, I get it. Any event that has tens of thousands of people is bound to experience some cluster-fuckery — it's unavoidable. But what went down in the HARD Summer parking lot after the event ended at its high school curfew of 11 p.m. is beyond comprehension. After a long shuffle from the venue, weary festival-goers sat in their static cars for upwards of two hours. Not two hours in slow-flow traffic — a chaotic jumble of automobiles facing in every direction, with no movement whatsoever. Some made the best of it and continued to party, blasting music from their blown-out car speakers, but most just wanted to get the hell out of there. I’m not sure why it happened or how to fix it, but I am sure that it sucked. It sucked really, really badly. —M.D.
Best: The awesome new venue
While HARD founder Gary Richards is no stranger to new venues, changing the location less than a month before lift-off from the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana to Live Nation's Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino was a bold move. Despite the obvious logistical challenges that come with a last-minute venue switch, Glen Helen proved to be a picturesque backdrop with its rolling green hillsides and pastel mountain silhouettes. Even walking between the festival’s six stages was relatively painless. After five venues in five years, Glen Helen — with some strategizing and organizing, especially in terms of getting people out at the end of the night — has the potential to be a perfect fit for HARD Summer moving forward (assuming it does). —M.D.